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The Adventure Below

Posted by Sa Wat Dema in Asian Odyssey 2006
October 31st, 2006

The adventure below continues…

I extended my stay on Phi Phi by a couple of days in order to squeeze a few more dives in. The things I have seen will amaze you. Last night, I went on a night dive off of Phi Phi Lei, descending into pitch blackness. It felt like I was 300 feet deep where no light can penetrate and in some movie with strange creatures fluttering beneath me. Hunting baracuda surrounded us. There were hundreds of them, and if you shine your light on the smaller fish in front of them, they thank you for the help as they gobble them up. We also saw this nearly flourscent squid squirting past. But the best part was when we settled on the bottom and turned off the lights –definitely an experience in itself -but when you move around in the darkness, the sea lights up around you as the photoluminescent plankton make erie yellow-green following the trails of your waving arms. It was absolutely amazing.

Today I did three more dives, including an excessively deep dive (30 Meters) and a wreck dive, which was one of the coolest things ever. We descended on the wreck of a ship called the King Cruiser, in what I heard was the best visibility and lowest currents my instructor had ever seen at the site. The boat is a huge catamaran-style passanger ship that sank in 1997. Barnacles were everywhere as we swam through the doorways and over its decks. Huge lionfish, grouper, and scorpion fish hid in its darkness. There was even bubbles coming from inside the ship like in the movies. It really appealed to my archaeology background — I would love to do some cave diving or work on an underwater archaeological project in the future. The best part was actually this one freakin’ monster-of-the-deep baracuda we saw that was the size of a shark (we’re talking 3 meters long and as wide around a basketball hoop). My divemaster had seriously never seen one so big. There was even a whole school of smaller fish following around this giant just to pick up the scraps.

The deep dive was really cool as well because we went over the various affects depth can have on you. My instructor brought an egg down to 30 meters then delicately cracked it open. The white part dissapeared, but because of the pressure, the yoke floated around without breaking. We pushed it back and forth and it would not break until he smeared it on my head. It was pretty amazing. He also took out a red coke can and because all of the colors of light had not penetrated except the deepest blues, the can looked dark purple! My instructor also asked me a serious of supposedly easy questions on the boat then slightly different ones at depth to show how much longer it takes to do things. Well, I’ll say that the difference in time in how long it took me to answer 4 questions was 7 seconds up top and 49 seconds below, though I made some ridiculous mistakes in both places. Through a combination of geographical stupidity, an inability to read his handwriting on a waterproof slate, and general slowness, some of my answers included the following: (sorry to any of my teachers reading this!): Capital of Australia? = Sidney (though it is actually Cambria), 8 x 7? = 42, and What do cows drink? = vegimite (I have no idea where that one came from!) Perhaps I was suffering from nitrogen narcosis, a harmless condition that makes you a bit drunk at depths, or perhaps just hanging around too many Australians. Who knows-

After all of these dives, I now have certifications in night, wreck, and deep diving, and am only two dives away from my Advanced Open Water Diver certification.

Quick Thai fact — On the Thai islands, the fast food consists of the ubiqutous “pancakes” which are buttery fried dough covered in fruit or better yet, chocolate nutella. They are as delicious as they sound (especially when you consider they cost 50 cents and incorporate at least a stick of butter). They also make fruit shakes everywhere — one tip: although they may sound plain, the simple Banana shakes are the best.

Tonight is Halloween and it looks like the island is gearing up for a dousy. This will also be the first night in a few that I don’t need to get up early to dive tomorrow — so I am looking forward to some ridiclousness. The last time I went out later than about 12 was the day before yesterday (which is actually quite a long break off from excessive partying in Thailand!). I agreed to go for a few celebratory beers with the 40-year-old Norwegian carpenter who took the Open Water Diver course with me. If you recall, his lack of good english made the class a bit of a pain in the but, but we had come so far together, I couldn’t say no. Well, we started going beer for beer at about 5:00. Let me just tell you from personal experience, do not try to go beer for beer with a 40-year-old Norwegian carpenter — you will not keep up, you will pass out in your bungalow by 7:30, you will wake up totally disoriented at 1:30, and you will attempt to go back out until 5:30 am though with only moderate intelligibility.

Another Thai fact — I saw a bit of Muay Thai boxing at a bar here called the Reggae bar. It is actually a huge tourist bar where you will be given two free buckets if you agree to fight. I haven’t partaken yet, but I did see one real match between two thais and I must say, this is perhaps the most brutally violent sport I have ever seen. Imagine two tiny guys literally kicking each other in the head repeatedly so hard that every time they connect, the other immediately falls head first to floor. In a three round match, I think both fighters were knocked down about 10 times each and they actually threw each other out of the ring alltogether twice. Ridiculous.

And another Thai fact-
It seems like the national sport of the thai islands is firedancing -basically winging around flaming poi sticks or these chains with flaming balls on the end in intricate patterns. The guys that do it are usually real badasses (they get covered in gasoline and tend to burn themselves often). Although, on Phi Phi, it seems everyone does it. There are little 10-year-old kids literally playing with fire –I personally used to get in trouble for playing with matches! Yesterday night, there was actually a big competiton to see who the best on the island was as a preliminary to a contest throughout Thailand. The ultimate winner will get 100,000 baht ($2500), quite a sum. The best guy could spin a pole in both hands, in opposite directions, at blinding speeds.

On a bit of another note- I would also like to take this opportunity to personally thank the country of Sweden. Not only is it a land of great gummi fishes and lingonberry pankakes, Sweden also produces and exports some of the most gorgeous women ever to grace this earth. With the amount of blondness that they let loose on the world, it is truly a wonder that the surrounding nations of Europe, as well as basically all human civilization, are able to survive and flourish without distraction. I guess while I am at it, I should extend a secondary thanks to the great nations of Norway, Isreal, Denmark, Spain, Thailand, France, Switzerland, England (particulary in the Brighton region and Nottingham University, wherever that is), Ireland, Canada, and Australia. I have definitely adopted a much stronger view towards the importance of international relations while on this trip.

Finally, thanks to everyone who sent me stories of the halloween events at home. I think double-J’s costume was by far the best, incorporating the high level of both creativity and sleeze that we have come to love him for. And Simon, I have told various people here about the mythical LTATI experience, including some Thais and a Karen tribesman, and it must be a relatively universal phenomenon because everyone seems to understand. There is a Thai saying that seems applicable here – if you ask a Thai how something is or how a new location will be, they will usually just respond with “Same Same” (as in it is the same all over), if they want to be long-winded, they say ” Same Same, but Different”. I find that seems to explain a lot.

Off to Railey tomorrow to do some rock climbing before heading back to the craziness of Khao San Road in Bangkok!

Brian

Too Much Tofu

Posted by Jason del Sur in Japan
October 30th, 2006

Yesterday is best presented as a haiku:

Five thirty a. m.
There’s no hangover today
A monk at my door.

Two days ago I awoke with a a raging hangover from Halloween festivities and a missing camera. I was going to Koyosan for the evening, so I knew it would be a relaxed day. In Koyosan, a small mountain town about two hours south of Osaka, you stay at a Buddhist temple. They serve you dinner and breakfast in your room at the temple, but it’s all vegitarian. Some tasty and some not so tasty. Definitely the best miso soup I’ve ever had. But the weird tofu squares that explode with wettness when you bite into them, not so enjoyable.

I didn’t know what I was going to be having, so I prepared myself (and relieved my hangover) with the best thing I could think of at the train station: McDonalds. Nothing says no meat after this for a day like a double cheeseburger and fries. Plus all I had had the day before was conveyor belt sushi and octopus balls (imagine six tiny corn dogs, only instead of hot dogs in the middle, it’s octopus. The octopus ball stand is their version of Chicago’s taco stand. Funny enough tako in Japanese means octopus).

If you ever go to Osaka, definitely take the overnight trip out to Koyosan. It’s a little while away, but the train ride has some awesome views and the cable car ascent to the town is spectacular. There’s some awesome temples and shrines. One of my favorites was this room filled with nothing but hundreds and hundreds of lanterns. There’s just rows and rows of them. They’re on the ceiling. They’re everywhere. Unfortunately by that point my newly purchased disposable camera was already out of film.

The town shuts down after dusk/dinner time–5:30ish–and you don’t know what to do with yourself, but you can do things like read the provided Teachings of Buddha, even if it’s in Spanish. I found the place where they keep the books, and they have every language from German to Polish to Arabic to Portuguese. But no English. I understood about half of the teachings of Buddha, thanks to my high school Spanish.

So you end up falling asleep around 10. It still has been some of the most sleep I’ve gotten all trip. They wake you up at 5:30 for the morning service, which is nice-the service, not the being awoken at 5:30-only you can’t understand what’s going on. But the gong is cool sounding and the fire they build is awesome. Well, because both gongs and fire are awesome.

I also reccommend checking out the cemetary at night. It’s giant, about a kilometer long. While a Christian cemetary tends to be be very creepy at night, a Buddhist cemetary has a very different feel. It is peaceful and serene, even as the candle light lanterns light your path.

I Left My Camera in Dotambori

Posted by Jason del Sur in Japan
October 30th, 2006

It’s true. My camera is lost amongst the craziness that is Dottambori in Osaka. Unfortunately that means that all of my pictures from Phuket and Osaka are no more. Brian, do your best to get pictures from the wedding from the other Jason.

I have a lot to say about Japan, and I feel like it will be best as multiple posts, so you only get a little at a time.

Japan is insane. I arrived in Osaka on Friday morning and was actually quite underwhelmed. It’s big. It’s crazy. Everybody is walking around in business suits. But I’ve seen New York.

Then the sun went down and the neon went up. If I wanted to make lame jokes (and I do), you might say I saw it in a whole new light. Imagine Times Square, but bigger. Well, then I saw Kyoto, which is an even bigger and even more neony beast; but that comes later. I wish I still had the pictures to prove it. One minute you’re hitting on an Australian girl, next minute her Japanese friends are buying you beer and saying your name in that crazy gutteral Kurasawa film voice.. Next minute you’re in a $20 cab ride home because you missed the last train and you’re out a camera.

Hopefully tomorrow I can pick up a new one; the only thing I’ve found so far that has menus in English is 40,000 yen (about $330 USD). Anyone that knows where I can get something cheaper, let me know. Otherwise, you don’t get pictures.

Call Me Scuba Steve!

Posted by Sa Wat Dema in Thailand
October 29th, 2006

And then there was one…

I know I have been very delinguent in my blog posts, but I have much to talk about on this one and finally some time to do it, so get ready-

So many things have been going on lately –my pal Ewen got married in Phuket, Jason is off in Japan, we slept through a bachelor party, we practiced our international relations with some young Isreali ladies, Tuk Tuk Reagan is probably still playing board games with his parasites and staying away from live fowl, and I just passed my Open Water Diver Scuba certification back on Phi Phi island. All in all, it has been a very busy few days. (Speaking of board games, connect four is huge here –it is apparently the bar game of choice. Jason and I found this out the hard way at a small bar on Phuket where the seemingly innocent young thai girls working there proceeded to demolish us both at connect four – I think they were about to play for money when we hastily left.)

In addition to talking about what we have been up to, I would also like to give a few brief insights into life here and some of things we have noticed, so I am going to forgo any chronological order-

First of all, the wedding was spectacular. For those of you that don’t know, the “excuse” for this whole trip was so that I could attend the wedding of my Australian travel photographer friend, Ewen Bell. The wedding was done in tradional Buddhist style (even though both Ewen and his wife are Australian) on the beach at sunset. There were chanting monks, local traditional dancers, a water ceremony where every guests helped wash the hands of the newlyweds while whispering kind words, everyone was given brightly colored parasols –it was amazing. All of this as the sun was setting over Kata Noi beach on Phuket, literally a picture postcard setting. As a man whole has played at thousands of weddings, I can honestly say it was the best banquet hall I have ever been to.

After the ceremony, they held the reception (for the 40 guests in attendance) at the villa they had been renting out (this “villa” was ridiculous, imagine 5 small houses all centered on a pool, with maids, a cook, a gym, and a bar all connected to your compound –all for about $650 US a night). It was an incredible party (I think that happens whenever you put a lot Australians together and give them copious amounts of mojitos.) It also happened to be on my birthday, so the bottle of Black Label I brought to aid the celebrations mostly got drank by me in the form of undesired shots. Interestingly however, I lasted the night while Jason was passed out in the gymnasium by 11.

Quick Thai fact — every monday, it is tradition here to wear bright yellow, usually in the form of a polo shirt with an emblem of the king on it. They do this to honor the king (as they also do by having a standing ovation for him before they start movies and by putting his photo up literally everywhere, and not always the most flatering photos, our favorites are the ones of him doing his hobbies like photography –in the amulet market in Bangkok we actually found one of the King playing the saxophone!). Well, since it is the month of the king’s birthday, nearly every thai wears these yellow shirts almost every day. Luckily, one of the three t-shirts that I brought happens to be the exact right color of bright yellow. Though the shirt is for my Kung Fu school in Chicago, I can’t tell you how many compliments I have gotten for it.

So, after the wedding, I hightailed it back to Ko Phi Phi, literally one of the mopst beautiful places on earth. I came to do my Scuba course because I heard the sites here were fabulous and just because I liked the island so much. Though my course started out a bit rough (I was in the theory class with a 40-year-old Norwegian who didn’t understand English nearly as well as he thought and who certainly couldn’t learn Scuba in that language), the dives were spectacular. The water and the reefs here are amazing. I actually did one dive in the bay where “The Beach” was filmed. All said and done, I spent three days and did four real dives. I saw everything from crazy anenomees to lionfish, big grouper to morey eels. I am even considering staying for two more days to do the Advanced course where I get to dive on a shipwreck, at night, and very deep. The night dive starts in a couple of hours so I need to decide quick. The other option which I wish I had time for is to do a 3-day liveaboard cruise to the Similan islands and do 14 dives in 3 days. The Similans are supposed to be one of the best places in the world to dive.

Anyway, there is so much else to tell. I will have to post a bit later today (I think after my night dive!).

Brian

If I don’t stay longer on Phi Phi, the plan is to head to Railey beach to do some rock climbing. It is supposed to be a very beautiful place.

Posted by Tuk Tuk Reagan in Thailand
October 25th, 2006

Go forth Traveler Dema. Hold thight to that which binds us in youth; A desire to look behind the waterfall and discover your tomorrow.

“Trust Thyself. Every heart vibrates to that iron string. . “
-R. W. Emerson

Happy BDay Buddy!

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